On Monday, February 26, 2007, I made my first ski trip of the season to Pennsylvania’s Whitetail Resort. This represented a pretty late start to the season for me, and wasn’t due to the mild temperatures of January. Since November, I’ve been nursing a knee injury that left me limping for parts of December and January. I did not know how my knee would respond to skiing. In addition, in early February I bought a new pair of skis (K2 Apache Strykers), replacing my decade-old (but much revered) K2 Fours. The K2 Four was one of K2’s first shaped skis, but it sported a rather conservative cut compared to today’s skis. I wasn’t sure if I had purchased the right length for the Stryker, or how well it would handle.
With these two unknowns, I approached the slopes of Whitetail with some trepidation - a marked change from the normal enthusiasm I feel when making my inaugural runs of the season. I had less trepidation about the conditions, though - Whitetail had received several inches of snow the day prior, with 100% terrain open. The temperature hovered around 40 degrees as I arrived at the slopes in the early afternoon, making for some soft snow at the base area, but I prefer soft snow to ice and I found no ice at Whitetail on Monday. The day was mostly overcast, although the sun poked out of the clouds to wink now and then.
Unsure of my knee and the new skis, and whether my legs would remember how to ski after an 11-month drought, I decided to start at Whitetail’s bunny slopes. That meant a ride up the U-Me Double. The slow, low U-Me Double. I skied down Almost Home, which was somewhat soft and sticky. The knee seemed fine and the skis too, so after one quick run I moved up a level to the Easy Rider Quad. I next tackled Snow Park. At this point, I started to feel some minor pain in my right knee, but I wasn’t sure if it was due to the injury or simply the standard pain of knees and legs complaining after a long skiing dry spell.
By now, I was becoming comfortable with the new skis. I didn’t have any problem turning, or any problem with the skis turning more than I wanted them to; in short, they seemed to be the perfect length, with perfect handling. Whew! Honestly, they felt just like my K2 Fours. I think to some degree, skiing on new skis is like driving a new car: after a few miles, you adapt to the feel of the new car and then don’t notice any differences. This is assuming that the car is not missing any tires and that you aren’t so tall that you hit your head on the roof.
After one run on Snow Park, I tired of fixed-grip chairlifts and headed straight for the Whitetail Express Quad. I then tackled each intermediate slope from left to right, starting with Fanciful. The snow on the intermediates was just about perfect: somewhere between packed powder and granular (Whitetail’s snow report listed conditions as powder and packed powder), with no icy patches and good coverage side-to-side. Very easy to carve. Even better, Whitetail was practically empty, especially with 100% terrain open. There were probably several hundred guests during the day, but it seemed that the majority were content to spend their time on Angel Drop and the Terrain Park. Slopes such as Fanciful and Far Side were empty; I had them completely to myself.
Although my knee did hurt a bit, my confidence increased and I began to ski “normally”: a bit faster, with sharp turns. Eventually I made my way over to Drop In and Whitetail’s expert terrain. A field of well-formed moguls lined Exhibition, the only slope that Whitetail has left ungroomed. I wisely decided not to tackle Exhibition on this trip; the knee definitely wasn’t ready for that. About five people were skiing or snowboarding on Exhibition. One skier was doing pretty well, while the other four were mostly sliding from one mogul to the next on their rear. One patch of trees to the left of Exhibition had a collection of plastic bracelets tossed on it, perhaps as an ode to Mardi Gras. (At Vail, Colorado, you can spot a group of trees in the back bowls covered in women’s undergarments.)
I did not see any skiers or boarders on Bold Decision during the 45 minutes or so I spent on the expert side, and I decided not to try Bold Decision on this trip. Instead, I veered to the right to Far Side, my favorite trail at Whitetail. The snow on Far Side was perfect (as it often is), with a great view, an interesting fall line, and a complete lack of skiers or boarders. I had Far Side all to myself.
I eventually headed back to Whitetail’s intermediate terrain, and spent some time skiing on slopes such as Limelight. I mostly avoided Angel Drop; that’s where the light weekday crowds congregated. Whitetail’s terrain parks (along Stalker and lower Angel Drop) had some impressive looking jumps and features, which I studiously avoided.
With no lift lines, I had made over a dozen runs in less than 3 hours and by now my right knee was giving me trouble. Deciding it was better to quit while I was ahead, I ended my trip just as the sun started to ponder setting. My knee complained on the drive home, but I was happy to wake up this morning with the knee no worse than it had been before my ski trip. I am now optimistic that my next firsthand report will have no mention of my knee (which you’re probably sick of hearing about by now!)
Video from the slopes: Scenes from Whitetail on Monday, February 26, 2007.
M. Scott Smith is the founder and Editor of DCSki. Scott loves outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, kayaking, skiing, and mountain biking. He is an avid photographer and writer.